Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Adrian Logan: Kyle's goal offers a lifeline

What a performance. After the pain and anguish of Latvia and Iceland Northern Ireland and Nigel Worthington got right back on track with one of the best displays we have seen for some time.

Every time we talk about how this team lift themselves to play against the best - and every time they don't let us down.

The only problem is that they fail too often against sides they should beat easily.

On reflection, it's hard to take the two defeats against weaker opposition when you consider we have taken four points from a possible six against the Group leaders Sweden.

From the off on Wednesday I was impressed with the way the team was playing.

They were passing and moving well and looked comfortable at the back.

The return of Aaron Hughes cannot be underestimated.

The skipper was immense at the back and while he put in a flawless performance what can you say about his defensive partner Stephen Craigan?

I think if Worthington has one regret it will be the fact that he dropped Craigan for those last two games before Stockholm.

I thought Craigan was the man of the match.

I know that Kyle Laffery added a few quid to his market value with that wonder strike but Craigan for me was the man.

He went about his business in his usual fashion. He just gets on with the game and is never flustered.

I thought he and Hughes formed the backbone of the performance along with five-star efforts from Sammy Clingan and Steve Davis in midfield.

I was impressed all week with the Swedish people and their team is the mirror image of them.

They are laid back and allow you to express yourself.

They gave Northern Ireland room and let them play.

After taking the lead, I'm sure the Swedes felt they would ease home but it never happened.

Instead we had the magical moment when Lafferty scored.

It actually took our fans a few seconds to realise that it really was nestling in the back of the net.

The Northern Ireland supporters were delirious and Sweden were stunned.

Earlier in the day a fan told me he fancied Northern Ireland to win 2-1 with goals from Lafferty and David Healy.

When the Killyleagh man broke through near the end I thought it was going to happen. What a fairytale that would have been.

Still the dream is alive. As Worthington said the door is still open and it's all to play for.

I have a few friends who booked the Spainish trip almost a year ago and they can't wait.

Two to go and anything is possible. I don't think that Denamrk will relish coming to Windsor Park next month.

I think that's a game Northern Ireland can win and after that we can only hope that the result goes our way in Sweden's game in Spain, setting up a fantastic showdown in Gran Canaria with Fernando Torres and co.

Even if that doesn't happen we are looking at a Northern Ireland side who could be playing for a consolation prize of third spot in the group.

That alone would be a magnificent achievment.



Staunton on way out

If things are looking good again for Northern Ireland, what can you say about the Republic?

It was bad enough in Cyprus but what about Croke Park?

At the moment the Republic team aren't good enough to adorn this magnificent stadium and the explanations from manager Steve Staunton are beginning to wear a bit thin.

I have always put on record my regard for Staunton.

He was one of the great servants for the Republic but things just haven't gone his way since he took over as the boss.

It's not all about bad luck. Like his press conferences, some of his selections have been bizarre to say the least and his team has struggled.

Now the Republic are no world beaters but they should be hammering the likes of Cyprus at Croke Park.

The Republic have no chance of making it into Euro 2008 and unless there is change they will drift along aimlessly in the World Cup qualifiers.

I feel sorry for Staunton but the Republic fans are no different to anyone else.

They want and demand success. Add into the mix the poisoned relationship that appears to exist with sections of the Irish media and you can only conclude that Stan is running out of time.



Wilko holds key to glory

Don't want to see it, but if England win the World Cup it will be down to Jonny Wilkinson.

I have rarely seen a player have so much influence on a team and on a tournament.

It's as if the opposition are in awe of him. They give him respect and more importantly they give him space. And you can almost sense they feal just what he might do next.

The talented out-half has dragged this England into the final and for that he deserves huge praise.

Hard to believe this was a young man who at one stage looked to have no future in the sport.

Dogged by injury, he has come back and come back in style. England were written off in many quarters before the start of the tournament but they have shown great leadership and strength.

I'm quite happy that England have made the final but I don't want them to win. I couldn't listen to another four years of hype.

I think South Africa will prove too strong, but I'll be surprised if it is a thriller.

On another note I know TV polls are not an exact science but this week on UTV over 70% said that Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan should ride off into the sunset. That tells you all you need to know.



Logan's hero

Hero of the week takes me back to Sweden this week.

Central defender Stephen Craigan returned to the Northern Ireland team and it was as if he had never been away.

Craigan was immense on Wednesday and I was delighted for one of the most unasumming players in the squad.

He always gives 100% effort and against Sweden he was here, there and everywhere, talking to those around him and leading by example. He's just typical of a team who are always worth watching.

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